Biblical Straight Edge


In contrast to the risky excesses that one normally associates with American teenagers–alcohol, drugssex–a bunch of rebellious teenagers in and around Washington D.C. in the early 1980s created the “straight edge” movement. In general, adherents eschew alcohol and drugs. Although the exact rules are interpreted differently by different people (some have sex, some don’t; some are vegetarians, some aren’t), straight-edgers have formed a more or less united front within the punk community, a subculture inside a subculture.

The concept of voluntary asceticism isn’t new, however. One early example, the Nazirite, can be found in the Torah.

The rules of becoming a Nazirite are simple–don’t drink alcohol; don’t come into contact with a dead body; don’t cut your hair (Numbers 6). The guidelines are detailed in the Torah, but it’s not exactly a commandment to be a Nazirite. It’s almost like an extra-credit assignment: if someone wants to behave in an extra holy way, they can take on the laws of the Nazirite, but nobody actually has to. In the Bible, most people who become Nazirites do so only for a short time. A few, including the prophets Samuel and Samson, pledged their Nazirite vows for life.

Most modern Jewish thinkers and denominations believe this practice is irrelevant in a world without a Jewish temple (a Nazirite has to bring specific sacrifices to the Temple when his vow is up). But there are a few notable outliers–including Rabbi David Cohen (1887-1972), an Israeli rabbi who attempted to revive the rituals. And a few minority evangelical Christians have set up an organization and a website for anyone looking to ditch their barbers, and to try a little biblical experimentation.

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